Ignoring health and safety of workers part-and-parcel of Amazon’s anti-union plan
After a productive two-day meeting in Barcelona, the UNI Amazon Alliance agreed an action plan to break through to organise at Amazon. Over 30 trade unionists from 10 different countries came together to plot the way forward for decent pay and working conditions at Amazon.
Trade unionists from different countries gave detailed reports on the situation at Amazon in their countries. Across the board, the meeting heard of Amazon’s abusive labour practices and virulent anti-union stance. Working for Amazon can be physically and mentally brutal - muscle problems, joint problems and the mental exhaustion that comes with constant surveillance are all part and parcel of working for them.
Francisco Jimenez, a Spanish worker at Amazon said, “Workers at Amazon are losing their rights little-by-little. We are not robots or elite athletes - when you have such a high rhythm of physically and mentally exhausting work, it becomes impossible to work without eventually burning out. Nobody retires at Amazon, the normal time spent working for the company is 5 years.”
“The company is not interested in changing and dissuade people from joining a union by threatening their job. Without a union or any kind of protections, workers live in fear of losing their job, and it’s no coincidence that the day after a dismissal, production goes up 20 %.”
In Italy, the situation is much the same - working at a fulfilment centre in Northern Italy, Filippo Marchesi explained that as a safety officer at an Amazon fulfilment centre he is routinely ignored on matters of health and safety.
“Last year, we repeatedly presented to the management about employees with back complaints, and yet their response was merely that you do not have to bend your backs to lift parcels. They pretend to listen and tell us ‘safety is our priority’, but that is evidently not the case.”
“We work 10 hours a day from Wednesday to Saturday with no breaks and it’s no shock that the level of absenteeism is very high due to illness and accidents.”
San Francisco University Professor - Amazon is more Walmart than Google
In a presentation made to around 30 trade union activists and Amazon employees in Barcelona, San Francisco State University Professor and expert on industrial relations John Logan, told the meeting that in its anti-union labour practices, Amazon was closer to Walmart than Google.
“Amazon are intensely hostile to unions both at home and in Europe - they are one of the largest proponents of the race to the bottom in the labour market,” said Logan. “Amazon masquerade as a modern company and as the future of the world of work, but really, they are closer to those of the past than those of the future.”
"Behind the scenes, Amazon deeply fears the presence of unions in their worksites. Despite the bruising workplace culture and warehouse jobs which push their workers to their physical and mental limits, organising at Amazon has been particularly difficult through a combination of fear of reprisal and hiring 'union avoidance' experts."
Senior organiser Nigel Flanagan, of UNI Global Union said, “Amazon may be a huge company, but every success the labour movement has won started with people getting together to build networks, information and challenge the status quo.”
“Let’s not underestimate the fact that ver.di have achieved some huge successes through strike action in Germany. This gives hope to trade unionists standing up to Amazon around the world.”
The next Amazon Alliance meeting will be held in March in Italy.